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SHOULD HE STICK TO THE STICKS?

Jan. 29, 1973
Jan. 29, 1973

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Jan. 29, 1973

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19th Hole: The Readers Take Over
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SHOULD HE STICK TO THE STICKS?

Sandy Hawley is unknown around big-time racetracks, but he could be the best bet of 1973. Last year he won more often than any other jockey riding in North America

He looks like a saint and rides like the devil. He is Desmond Sandford (Sandy) Hawley, a long-haired, 105-pound Canadian jockey who has just won his second North American riding championship. Once again he has brought in more winners (367) in a year than all the big-name jockeys: Shoemaker (172), Pincay (289), Baeza (129). Yet Sandy Hawley is little known in the U.S. While other top riders are congregating under the palms at Santa Anita and the Miami tracks, Hawley works the cold, often drear, Bowie meeting in Maryland. There the bettors love him. They should—his winning percentage is an astounding 29.6. There are many who bet on Hawley, not the horse, a considerable tribute inasmuch as the rule of thumb is that the horse is 80% of the race and the jockey 20%. In Canada, Hawley is such a hero that Toronto once celebrated Sandy Hawley Day, going so far as to give the 23-year-old rider a motorcade, and. when he showed up at Laurel last December midway through the meeting he boosted attendance to such a point that grateful track officials actually named a race in his honor. In hero fashion, Hawley won that event, too.

This is an article from the Jan. 29, 1973 issue Original Layout

The Canadian will ride between 1,500 and 2,000 horses in 1973, hoping to win 500 races, something no jockey has done in a year. (The record is 485 by Shoemaker in 1953.) After Bowie, Hawley plans to head home to ride at Greenwood, Woodbine and Fort Erie, all near Toronto. On off days and nights he will take mounts at Blue Bonnets in Montreal, an hour away by jet. He may come back to the States during the summer and expects to ride at the fall meeting at Laurel.

There are those who declare Hawley has yet to prove himself a top jock, never mind the top jock, because he does not compete regularly at New York or Florida tracks. For all his wins, Hawley's mounts earned only $1.3 million in 1972 while Pincay, for instance, rode winners of $3.2 million. However, Hawley did appear as an apprentice one winter at Hialeah and did very well indeed—he was the first bug boy to be the leading rider. In Canada Hawley has performed superbly in the best competition. He has ridden in the Queen's Plate twice and won twice. He has ridden in the Canadian Oaks three times and won three.

Hawley's style is distinctive, especially in the stretch. He bounces up and down a lot and sits farther back in the saddle than other jockeys. Pictures of a Hawley photo finish often are startling. At first glance it appears that he has lost, because his body is completely behind that of the rival jockey, but the nose of his horse usually has hit the wire first.

As a jockey, Hawley has several notable attributes, not the least of which is courage. Chick Lang, who was Bill Hartack's agent and who says that Hawley reminds him of the early Hartack, recently remarked in the Doily Racing Form, "The other day at Laurel, Hawley was riding over a very hazardous track which might have caused others to conveniently cancel their mounts. Hawley was spilled twice that day and was pretty well banged up, but he came back to ride his mounts the next day. That's the mark of a champion."

Hawley also has acumen. "He can foresee things," says his agent, Colin Wick. "He's not perfect. Understand, nobody's perfect. I've seen him win races he should have lost and lose some he should have won, but he's won more than lost. Jim Fitzsimmons used to say that the only difference between a good jockey and a bad one is that a good jockey doesn't make as many mistakes."

For all his mod looks and dress, Hawley is a young man with old-fashioned manners, polite and well-spoken. There are trainers who don't like the length of his hair, but no one complains of the size of his head for all his success. Hawley's wife Sherrie is far removed from the typical jockey's doxy seen in the movies and sometimes in real life. A pert, intelligent brunette who used to ride show jumpers in Canada, she met Sandy while working as an exercise girl at Fort Erie. Recently, to Wick's horror, Hawley joined Sherrie and Kathy Kusner in jumping horses on a Sunday. "Busman's holiday," said Hawley. He has been teaching Miss Kusner, a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team who has been riding at Maryland tracks, how to switch a whip from her right hand to her left and to her right again during a race—a skill many jockeys never learn. The secret is to use the mouth as the transfer point.

Hawley's development as a rider follows classic lines. He grew up near the National Stud Farm in Ontario, the son of a lab technician in Oshawa. Despite his size (5'2"), young Hawley played every sport he could as a child. In grammar school he was a first baseman and batted third in the lineup. He was a goaltender in hockey. In high school he had the audacity to go out for varsity football, but, he admits, "they ran me off after two practice sessions." In his first and only year of high school wrestling he came in second in the 98-pound class, All-Ontario.

Almost always in the back of his mind was the idea of becoming a jockey, largely because an uncle, Web Bride, used to tell him, "I'm going to make a rider out of you." Hawley says, "Up until the time I was 16, I would bother my uncle all the time, asking, 'When are you going to take me to the racetrack?' "

One day Uncle Web called up Duke Campbell, a trainer at the National Stud Farm. Campbell told Uncle Web to bring his nephew over for inspection. When they went, Campbell carefully looked at Hawley's hands and feet and then announced, to Hawley's joy, "I don't think you'll grow an awful lot, so I'll give you a chance."

Hawley quit school and began his rigorous training. First he walked horses and mucked out stalls at Woodbine. Then there were weeks of cleaning stalls at the National Stud, turning horses out in the paddocks and bringing them in at night, "just getting used to being around horses." This was followed by months working as a groom at the tracks for $55 a week.

On his days off as a groom, usually Sundays, Hawley would ask an exercise boy if he could ride a horse around the shed. "I rode bareback," he says. "Mr. Campbell wanted me to ride bareback, and his reason was that a person can gain better balance learning that way. After he saw me doing this Mr. Campbell was enthused, and he would let me make rounds of the shed with the tack. When I'd ride by the oldtimers would say, 'Keep your feet forward.' 'Keep your hands down on the neck.' 'Take a cross with the lines.' That means cross one rein over the top of the other and then hold them with your hands. Mr. Campbell began taking me out to a field and teaching me to post on a horse, to stay in time with the animal in a jog. After he taught me that, I began to canter, and he'd be riding a pony alongside and have a shank on the horse I was on. He'd let the shank get longer and longer until I was on my own.

"In about a year's time, I became an exercise boy. And after a year and a half of that, I rode races. I used to ask Duke Campbell, 'When can I ride?' and he'd say, 'I'll let you know.' " In late 1968 the trainer put Hawley on a mount at Woodbine. "The horse was called Regal Victory," Hawley says, "and I wound up fifth. My first winner was Fly Alone. It was the sixth race I rode, and he won by two or three lengths. I remember it was on a Saturday with a real big crowd. It was funny that I won on that horse because a rider has to ride five races before he's allowed to carry a stick. The stewards use this rule, I guess, to see if a rider can control horses well enough without a stick. The first time I was able to use a whip, I won. I hit Fly Alone two or three times."

Hawley has had almost 5,000 mounts since, but he is not in the least convinced that he knows everything there is to know about racing. He is always trying to find ways of cutting down mistakes. Hawley's riding style is both an amalgam of techniques he has absorbed from other jockeys and a summation of his own experiences. "You can listen to other riders," he says, "but you have to find your own style. Riding race after race, you develop a style, and the way the horse feels freest is the way you try to ride."

Hawley sits down each morning with the Form and goes over the entries carefully, race by race. He tries to figure which horses in an event might have real speed or "cheap speed" and where he is likely to be lying when he makes his move. He also notes track conditions—what they are before the first race and how they change during the afternoon. For instance, in a recent race at Bowie, the seventh on the card, Hawley realized the track was getting "greasy" on the inside because horses had been running all day along the rail. So he moved his mount, Zadig, outside in the stretch, where the footing was firmer, and won by a neck. A track official, who is an admirer of Hawley's cunning, had purposely gone down to the winner's circle to watch the drive to the wire, and when Hawley and Zadig came on fast at the finish there was Zadig's owner, George E. Frisco, just another guy with a string of horses, jumping up and down exclaiming, "The horse wouldn't have won without Hawley! He's five lengths better than any jockey on the grounds!"

Before a race Hawley goes out to the paddock where a battalion of bettors watch him mount his horse. The owner or trainer might offer instructions on how to handle the animal, and if they don't, Hawley is likely to ask if it has "any bad habits." Warming up on the track as the odds on the mutuel board begin to light up and change, Hawley feels the horse out, "whether he'll lug in, lug out, whether he's heavy-headed or has a light mouth, which means he might be very tricky about the mouth. This is important because you have to be ready when you come out of the gate. If you have a light-mouthed horse and he comes out of the gate on his own, he can lose a stride or two if he throws up his head and you pull back on the lines. So you should have a finger-full of mane to keep him under control."

Should a horse be skittish or drenched with sweat—the latter a bad sign—before reaching the starting gate, Hawley does his best to calm the animal with affectionate pats on the neck and soothing words of "Easy, boy," or "That's a good girl." He wants the horse to be relaxed; otherwise it would use up energy needed for the race.

When the gate opens, Hawley tries to get his horse "running easily, running into the bit, so the horse isn't used up at all." In a typical race, Hawley likes to lie back until the ‚Öúths pole. Up to this point he almost never uses the stick. "You wait for the stick until you have to use it," he says, "and there's the odd race where I don't hit a horse at all."

Around the ‚Öúths pole, Hawley begins to make his move. It might come before this or afterward. There is nothing definitive about the ‚Öúths pole. The move depends on traffic, how the field is bunched or unbundled, and Hawley makes a split-second judgment. There are risks here that a jockey must bear. He might get shut off. There are times, he knows, when he rode a fine race and the gap just closed and he placed second, to the catcalls of the bettors. There are also times, he admits, when with sheer luck he finished lengths in front but knew that he had ridden a bad race. There are also times when he will make the move toward the sliver of an opening between galloping horses, seize the lead, finish first and see the inquiry sign light up. Last year he lost 50 days of riding because of suspensions by the stewards. "You see the opening and you go for it," he says, not apologizing at all. "There are no rearview mirrors, and you may have no idea that you cut another horse off."

Whenever Hawley decides to move he begins saying "pwwipp, pwwipp" to his mount, a kissing sound that means go. "This is called 'clucking to the horse,' and when he hears this he starts moving," he says. Should the horse not respond, Hawley swats him with the stick in methodical fashion, first on the right side of the neck, then under the belly and finally back on the rump. Inasmuch as most jockeys are right-handed, some horses have grown immune to being whipped on the right side; Hawley then switches the stick to his left hand and begins lashing from the neck to the behind. "This startles them, and they move," he says.

In Hawley's experience, horses react differently upon gaining the lead. "Oddly," he says, "some wait for the rest of the field to catch up. They think the race is over because they're in front. This may have something to do with the way they've been trained. There are other horses that just keep on running in the lead because they don't want mud or dirt thrown in their face."

Going into the stretch drive, Hawley gives a shrill whistle like a doorman calling a cab. He might bellow "Yah! Yah! Yah!" Because of their own roar, the bettors in the stands cannot hear the jocks at this dramatic moment, the smacks of the sticks and the clattering of hooves. At this instant, Hawley begins bouncing up and down on his mount in rhythm with the horse's stride. Because he bounces, he uses a soft-backed saddle so he will not bruise his own backside. "I feel that bouncing moves a horse up near the finish, that it will make his front end stretch out a little better," Hawley says. "Some horses really will respond to that, especially since I sit back on their kidneys."

Barring lengthy suspensions or accidents, Hawley is convinced that using this technique he can ride those 500 winners in 1973. "Riding could get to be a bore," he says, "but if you've got a goal, you've got more to be enthused about."

PHOTOTWO PHOTOSTWO WOMEN who know the ropes (or reins): Wife Sherrie (above) and Kathy Kusner, who taught Hawley a thing or two about jumping.